Summer Learning: A Most Pleasant Sojourn
By Rosemary Aubert
This is another in our series of blogs by Mesdames who teach and also learn, along with their students. This month we feature Mme. Rosemary Aubert, author of the acclaimed Ellis Portal series. Rosemary is a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis award for crime fiction, winning in both the novel and short story categories. A collection of her short stories, The Midnight Boat to Palermo, was published in the fall of 2016 by Carrick Publishing.
For ten years I had the pleasure of conducting a course on novel writing in the summer. It was an intense all-day, five-day workshop for “mature” students in a community college near a small Ontario city surrounded by beautiful waterways, rural landscapes and romantic islands. Students stayed on campus at residences and often met for breakfast, lunch, and at least on one evening of the week, for a special dinner shared with students studying other subjects, such as art.
Among the many teaching experiences I have had, which began over fifty years ago when I was a twenty-year old teaching religious instruction, this experience was surely one of the best. Not only were the learners extremely eager, but the atmosphere was just the right combination of serious and casual. We wore leisure clothes, we gathered around a table to teach and learn, we shared coffees… It was great.
Of course, I learned a great deal about what is required to make such a comfortable atmosphere of maximum benefit to my students.
What are the main challenges in teaching mature students?
Here are a few things I discovered:
- People who engage in vacation learning have looked forward to your course it for a long time—often from one summer to the next in the same way as people look forward to their single week at the cottage. For this reason, it’s essential to understand that expectations must be clear from the course advertising and that those expectations must be met or exceeded so that there is no disappointment.
- Many of these students have very limited time to spend on their learning and they’ve chosen to spend it with you, so you’ll want them to feel that their time is well spent.
- Unlike school and university students, these students are primarily customers, and like all customers, they expect to get what they pay for, and the provider must expect active resistance if they don’t get it!
- Unlike school students, adult learners are equals with each other and with you. This has to be borne in mind in order to elicit the confidence necessary in the adult teacher-student relationship.
What strategies work really well?
I have always found that highly interactive teaching methods have worked best with adult learners. We sit around a table, we discuss material when it’s presented by the teacher, we engage in questions, opinion-sharing and debate. This means the teacher must be fully familiar with all aspects of topics presented but must also be willing to learn a thing or two once in a while!
Such a highly interactive method of teaching guarantees that the topics studied are those most interesting to the students. However, the teacher must always have a definite plan that can be steered back toward. You always have to be aware of keeners, know-it-alls, and would-be executives who try to steer the other students toward their objectives rather than yours.
What is the best advice for teachers of mature students?
It pays to be really nice but to always clearly know what your objective is and what you want your students to be thinking about. Sort of like a real estate agent…
A successful teaching/learning experience only requires two things: One who knows and one who wants to.
I can’t think of anywhere where you would be more likely to encounter this situation than in a well-prepared short summer course for adult learners.